Guerrilla warfare typically pulls very young men into the fight. One was Jesse James, who would later become America’s most famous outlaw. But in 1863, Jesse was just another
Missouri farm boy. The picture of him at right was made right around the time Guerrilla Season takes place.

     Jesse was among the hundreds, if not thousands, of Missouri boys who became guerrillas. When the war ended, many were still teenagers – Jesse was 17 – and they had to live with the memories of what they had done and seen.

     Try to imagine helping to hold a man down so that another guerrilla could slit his throat. Or falling off your horse because you’re so sickened by the sight of a man being clubbed to death. Or watching a friend or brother summarily executed by Union soldiers in this war of “no quarter.” Put yourself in these shoes, and you can begin to understand what it was like to be a teenage Missouri guerrilla.

    Does this excuse Jesse’s postwar life of bank robbery, train robbery and murder? No. But if Jesse had lived in modern times, I have no doubt he would have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the war. Nowadays, there are United Nations-funded organizations such as Assistance for Victims of Violence, whose stated purpose is to “help [former guerrillas] recuperate their childhoods.” In 1865, of course, such diagnoses and social programs did not exist. Kids who had been guerrilla fighters were cut loose on society, sometimes with disastrous results – both for them and for their communities.
     Here’s Jesse after he became a bushwhacker – pretty
amazing contrast in a couple of years, wouldn’t you say? He’s wearing his guerrilla shirt and carrying three revolvers. One is in his right hand (the picture is an ambrotype, which reverses images), and you can see the shiny ends of the other two guns sticking out from his belt. Some people claim to see a psychopath in this photo. I don’t know ... I just see a 16-year-old kid trying to look tough.
another famous Missourian who might easily have ended up in a guerrilla shirt … but he had a way out.     

Jesse James, American boy